With Pettitte, the Yanks' rotation would have undoubtedly improved. Pettitte's competitiveness is unquestioned, and his consistency on the mound, when he's healthy, is impressive.
But Pettitte made it pretty clear throughout 2010 that he was leaning this way. Pitching through back and hamstring injuries last October proved to be the end of the line.
Plenty of questions arise in the wake of Pettitte's decision. There will be the debate over his Hall of Fame candidacy, certainly, but that bit of trivia is hardly at the forefront of the Yankees' thinking right now.
More important at this juncture is the outlook for a rotation that looks a heck of a lot thinner than the Yankees envisioned. More to the point, it's a rotation that simply doesn't stack up with that of the Red Sox and Rays.
Still, Pettitte's decision shouldn't induce panic.
At least not yet.
Without Pettitte or Lee in the mix, the Yanks still have the makings of a workable starting five.
I mean, maybe.
That's the thing about this Yankees starting five. You can talk yourself into it or out of it, depending on your mood.
Even the most pessimistic among us would agree that having CC Sabathia, the ace of aces, in the No. 1 spot is a fine starting point. But from there, the debate (and doubt) rages on.
A.J. Burnett circa 2009 is a nice right-handed complement to Sabathia in the No. 2 spot. The Burnett of '10 is a disaster best stashed away in the back end of the rotation.
The belief seems to be that with fewer distractions, Burnett can rebound in 2011 and get back to his old self. But it would seem a more apt source of optimism would arise from the simple fact that Burnett in '09 reached the playoffs for the first time, made five October starts and likely paid the price for it in '10. Perhaps his lighter workload last year will be beneficial to him this season.
Then again, maybe not. After all, Burnett's strikeout rate dropped precipitously last season, largely because his once-mighty curveball began getting fewer swings and misses. Perhaps this is a location problem that can be corrected with mechanical tweaks. Or perhaps the 34-year-old Burnett is merely in the beginning of a sharp career decline.
The bright side is that Burnett has made at least 33 starts in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, so he's answered questions about his durability, if not his dependability. The Yankees are clearly going to need a lot of innings out of him this year, one way or another.
Phil Hughes? Now there's a guy Yankees fans can feel good about in the middle of the rotation. He might not be suited to be the No. 2 guy he became when Pettitte got hurt last year, but Hughes has certainly proven his worth as a starter. Hughes is a fly-ball pitcher in a hitters' park, which is a concern, but he has good command and has shown he can go deep into games.
So there it is. The makings of a decent rot...
What's that? There are still two more spots to fill?
New York is clearly in spaghetti-tossing territory when it comes to the Nos. 4 and 5 spots. Stocking up on has-beens like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to compete with Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre and hoping they have something left in the tank is the sort of low-risk, rare-reward move usually reserved for small-market clubs. To see the Yankees engaged in such tactics (not to mention their pursuit of former outcast Carl Pavano) tells you plenty about the free-agent starting market this winter. It was Lee, and then a big, bad dropoff.
But that doesn't mean the Yanks are sunk. You're never completely sunk at this stage of the season when you have the kind of resources this club enjoys. With Pettitte officially out of reach, they should take their time evaluating their in-house options this spring, all the while knowing that they'll have plenty of opportunity to augment the rotation as the year progresses. That's when it'll be time to execute Plan D -- as in Deal.
Paging Joe Blanton, perhaps?
The Yanks don't have Pettitte, but they have a stacked lineup and a strong bullpen. They should be able to hang with the top teams in the AL East until it's time to bring in reinforcements and make a second-half move.
Well, unless Sabathia gets hurt and Burnett is a bust again.
Then it's time for Plan P.